At a time when America's hospital systems are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases and deaths, one hospital system in Florida is using autonomous vehicles to transport medical supplies and test kits.
The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, recently announced that self-driving shuttles would transport COVID-19 tests from a drive-in testing clinic to the processing lab.
According to Mayo's press release, "health care resources and staff are stretched thin," and the hospital system believes robots can help limit exposure to the virus and free up healthcare workers' time.
Mayo says four shuttles have been in operation since March 30. The program is in partnership with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), Beep, and NAVYA, all working together to ensure autonomous vehicle safety.
"This development is a historic moment for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority," said Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr., CEO of JTA.
"Along with our partners, Beep, NAVYA, and Mayo Clinic, we are leveraging our learnings from three years of testing autonomous vehicles through our Ultimate Urban Circulator program. Our innovative team saw this as an opportunity to use technology to respond to this crisis in Northeast Florida and increase the safety of COVID-19 testing."
Kent Thielen, MD, CEO of Mayo Clinic in Florida, said, "Using artificial intelligence enables us to protect staff from exposure to this contagious virus by using cutting-edge autonomous vehicle technology and frees up staff time that can be dedicated to direct treatment and care for patients."
The proliferation of autonomous vehicles to transport infectious disease tests and medical supplies suggests that the pandemic could be the trigger for major hospital systems across the US to embrace an age of automation. We've noted on several occasions that robots will displace at least 20 million jobs through 2030. However, the virus crisis will likely speed up this transformative period, and instead of happening over ten years, it could come a lot quicker.